By Keith McMillan D3sports.com
Having been present for every Stagg Bowl since 1997, I’ve seen my fair share of memorable games, plays and players. But if you forced me to pick a favorite run to the walnut and bronze, to this day I’d go with the 1999 Pacific Lutheran team.
Maybe it was because they came out of nowhere, one year removed from the NAIA, a No. 7 seed that won four road playoff games before triumphing in Salem. Maybe it’s because it was a team full of goody two-shoes — guys who genuinely bought into the idea that you could throw a crushing block on an opponent, then help him up and pat him on the butt.
But mostly it was because of Frosty Westering.
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Westering, 85, is in the hospital this week and not doing well, according to messages in social media from members of his family and from his Facebook fan page.
If I ever quit writing to coach, something I contemplate regularly, I would immediately steal most of Frosty’s ideas and implement them as my core philosophy. (In fact, my whole pitch in an interview would be that I’ve been fortunate enough to observe Larry Kehres, John Gagliardi, Frosty Westering and others up close.)
Frosty (never Coach Westering, by the way) is famous for “Every Man a Lute” and “Make the Big Time Where You Are” — also the title of his book — but I’m just as intrigued by his idea that you compete against your best self. The score of the game is secondary for the most part, as it is going on. The goal is to get the best out of yourself, do your job to the best of your ability and win your individual battles. Do that and final scores take care of themselves.
That might sound too good to be true, but it worked for Frosty. His teams won three-quarters of their games, and at 305-96-7, Westering is one of just 12 football coaches (when you include Joe Paterno’s vacated wins) in the 300-win club. His peers, by that measure, include Glenn “Pop” Warner, Amos Alonzo Stagg, Paul “Bear” Bryant, Kehres and Gagliardi.
There’s no quintessential Frosty Westering story that sums him or his teams up. Google his name, and you are rewarded with an archive of articles, some of which detail practices such as postgame “Afterglow,” breaks in practice to watch sunsets or to enjoy popsicles, the preseason getaway to the Oregon Coast, and his habit of cheering things with an “Attaway!” He’s mentioned in the lede when you read about his granddaughter, Taber Spani, who plays basketball for Tennessee, and when you read about Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, who married into the family.
Frosty is more than just a grandparent and coach – he had served in the U.S. Marines, earned his doctorate in education and become a motivational speaker. He was named Washingtonian of the Year in 2010 and earned the AFCA’s Stagg Award last month. Westering retired from coaching in 2003, but much like Gagliardi, who retired this past season, his influence lives on. Both Greenville (“Every Man a Panther”) and PLU are still run on Frosty’s ideals, while PLU grad and Northwestern (Minn.) coach Kirk Talley and many a coach has borrowed from him.
Division III barely had Frosty – PLU switched over in 1998 and he retired six seasons later. But the 1999 championship run stands out. The Lutes faced Rowan, who had vanquished Mount Union in the semifinals in overtime, and were thought to be a mismatch for the Profs, who along with the Purple Raiders were D-III’s mighty teams of the late 1990s. It was a mismatch alright. PLU won 42-13, with a flurry of misdirection and a bevy of Attways! and pats on the butt.
Getting to know Frosty and the Lutes during that run was fun for all of D-III, though. A team that didn’t curse and a coach that didn’t have a negative thing to yell sounded entirely too good to be true. But when the notebooks were put away and the cameras were off, Frosty’s act never stopped. He was every bit the man he was made out to be.
The season after the Stagg Bowl title, Austin Murphy wrote about Frosty in the Sports Illustrated season preview. When I called Frosty to write a piece about PLU, and he heard I hadn’t read the story, an issue of SI, with Michael Vick on the cover in a Virginia Tech jersey, arrived at my door a few days later. Frosty’s signature was scrawled across the magazine.
We can appreciate Frosty for his 305 wins, but the number 900 says a lot more about him than the victories do. When he retired in 2003, that’s how many of his former players showed up to PLU’s gym to wish him the best.
That’s an Afterglow that deserves an Attaway!